SBJ/December 10-16, 2012/Olympics

Plant winds up wild eight years on USOC board

Mike Plant this month will step down as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, bringing an end to an eight-year term as one of two representatives of the national governing bodies to the board. He served during a tumultuous period in the organization’s history that saw the board shrink from more than 125 members to nine. The organization is in the process of interviewing Bill Marolt, CEO of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, and Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame athletic director, to fill Plant’s position.

Last week, Plant, who is on a subcommittee of the board exploring a U.S. bid for the 2024 or 2026 Olympics, spoke with staff writer Tripp Mickle about his years on the board and the organization’s future.


What was the most important change the USOC made while you were on the board?
PLANT: You have to give a lot of credit to the group that finally realized the board had to be scaled down from 120-plus people to the smaller group. They realized we were paralyzed from being somewhat dysfunctional and bureaucratic, and changed to set ourselves up for success. I was fortunate to be part of it. It just got off on the wrong foot. Now we have a chairman and CEO that have a common vision, and the volunteers [on the board] realize that they get on the plane after board meetings and let the staff run the show.

Mike Plant, testing some therapeutic equipment at a training center, is helping work toward a potential U.S. Olympic bid.
TRIPP MICKLE / STAFF
Where does the Stephanie Streeter issue rank in the history of USOC issues?

PLANT: Where would it rank? It was recognized domestically and even internationally as a debacle for the organization. I’ll chalk that up to [USOC Chairman] Larry [Probst], out of the box, being given some bad advice. It showed the passion the stakeholders have, namely the national governing bodies. The U.S. Olympic Committee, we don’t have any athletes. We don’t identify them, train them, recruit them. That’s the national governing bodies, and those guys got so disrespected so quickly that when [Streeter replaced USOC CEO Jim Scherr as CEO] it didn’t go over well. But I want to give credit to Larry. Once he put both feet in after Copenhagen, he got it right. He brought in a guy the stature of Paul Tagliabue, and in the reform period they came out with some pretty good recommendations. Larry implemented a lot of them. At the same time, he went down the path of making Scott [Blackmun] CEO. It was unfortunate we got to that point, but the organization is much better off than it’s ever been.

When will the U.S. host an Olympics again?
PLANT: The when question is — when do we think we can win. We are trying to home in on that. There could develop a strong list for 2024 already. The other thing is where. You’d like to say, we all know the big cities in America that have global appeal, but then the question becomes how. We all know the costs.

Should it host a Winter or a Summer Games?
PLANT: We [the USOC’s Olympic bid subcommittee] have another four- or five-hour session in two weeks in San Francisco. This comes down as a mathematical equation to me. There has to be a strong evaluation of risk and reward. We got a playbook together on the variance in reward between the Summer and Winter [Games]. People try to trump up the Summer Games, but the variance between the two is smaller than people realize. The numbers don’t add up to cover the risk in the Summer from the traditional revenue sources. A lot of it is the bricks and mortar and the infrastructure. London total revenue was more than $3 billion. I don’t know that you can put on a Summer Games for less than $5 billion. How do you cover the gap? I’m a staunch supporter of “Let’s make sure we have this all figured out.”

If you were to issue a word of caution or advice to your replacement on the board, what would it be?
PLANT: Both Jack and Bill I’ve known for a long time. I don’t have a concern that I’m going to be replaced with a meddler. But my advice would be: Don’t meddle. We have a competent CEO running the organization with a competent leadership staff. Let them continue to execute the strategic plan.

What does the USOC need to do to be successful in the future?
PLANT: It has to continue to generate record-setting revenues every year. The funding that goes into all the national governing bodies gets greater and greater. It’s important that we’re one of the top countries in the world when it comes down to tallying the medals from the Games. It’s what the sponsor community and American citizens expect. And then we have to continue to develop — not just relationships in the international sports community — but trusting relationships. That’s one thing we’re continuing to work on is who can we trust to really support us and back us.

What is the biggest challenge the USOC faces?
PLANT: If we’re going to go after a Summer Olympics, it’s addressing [the government] guarantee issues. It’s a big open issue that any of our opponents will make. We have to address that before we stick our toes in the water.

What’s next for you? Will you stay involved in the Olympics?
PLANT: I’ve got a great job with the Atlanta Braves [executive vice president of business operations]. Hopefully, we win the World Series in 2013. If Scott and Larry want me to continue to bring my experience to the table, I will. Otherwise, I will stay involved with cycling. I don’t know if I’ll go to Sochi if I don’t have a reason to. I’m a firm believer that the day you don’t provide value any more is the day you should move on to something else. It’s time for me to move on.

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